The Geomancer


If Only All Hate Mail Was This Good...

Dear Jerk,
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man: (Burton & Swinburne In)
Who do you think you are? Thanks to your awesome cover design on Mark Hodder's The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, I decided to buy a fantasy/scifi/ whatever it's called book for the first time ever. Because of Mark Hodder's book, I thought, gee maybe this Pyr Book Publisher might have some other good books. Since March, I've read Twelve, Thirteen Years Later, Ghosts of Manhattan and Vampire Empire! Not only that, but I still have to buy The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, The Falling Machine, The Buntline Special and Ghosts of War! Where do you get off putting out these books? There are other publishers for god sakes but can I look at them? No. And what books do you have coming up in the next few months? 5 more that I want to read now!... Thanks to you and your publishing company, I check writers blogs. Blogs! And I actually like book covers now. Why? I don't know. I can't explain it. Now all I want to do is write steampunk books with magic and vampires and monsters. I don't know how you sleep at night. 

Andrew Augustine
or (if you thought this wasn't funny)
Brian Urlacher


Hoffman's Debut Has All the Right Elements

Sword of Fire and Sea: The Chaos Knight, Book OneErin Hoffman's debut fantasy, Sword of Fire and Sea, is plling up some good reviews.
"Many fantasy novels, especially high fantasy ones, can suffer from bloat and padding, with far too much detail given, making the reading something of a slog. By comparison, Hoffman's novel reads much like Lou Anders, her editor, compared her to: Michael Moorcock. The writing is crisp, sharp, and the text is replete with new and interesting things around every corner. Fire priestesses, gryphons, mind magic using mages, Goddesses, magic weapons, Air knights...Hoffman never lets up in the narrative in introducing us to her world and new characters. The strong elemental theme to the magic put me in mind of the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher, and, yes, to Avatar the Last Airbender." SF Signal, Four Star Review

"Despite its short length, under 300 pages, Sword of Fire and Sea uses its space wisely. It doesn't waste words or build in details that will have more significance later in the story. Hoffman focuses quite squarely on the here and now for Vidarian and Ariadel, giving us just enough to understand their situation(s) and motivations. This is definitely more like the fantasy series of when I was younger and will likely appeal to anyone who enjoys RPGs (Role Playing Games) or MMO's games (Massive Multipleplayer Online)." Night Owl Reviews, Four 1/2 Star Review

"This series debut by video game designer Hoffman features well-drawn characters, both human and mythical.  VERDICT: Introducing a world of elemental magic, intelligent gryphons, and warring forces, this fantasy adventure is suitable for both YA and adult readers." Library Journal
And if you want a taste of Erin's world, head to Beneath Ceaseless Skies, where her story "Sightwolf" is online for free.

The Goblin Corps Wants You!

The Goblin CorpsReviews for The Goblin Corps are starting to pour in, and the verdict seems pretty clear:

"Goblins are mean, nasty creatures. As a staple race of most epic fantasy, they usually exist for some sort of sword fodder, beings killed to level up the hero. But some authors like to turn the tradition on its head. Jim C. Hines has done that with humor in the Jig the Goblin series, R. A. Salvatore gave orcs more personality with in the Hunter’s Blades Trilogy, and now Ari Marmell mixes the best ideas of these two authors with the grittiness of Joe Abercrombie in The Goblin Corps. ....I haven’t enjoyed a quest fantasy this much since I read David Eddings back in middle school. Marmell has the wit and charm of Eddings’s stories coupled with the grittiness of Joe Abercrombie or Sam Sykes and a narrative style that is completely his own. If you ever wished that Brandon Sanderson or David Eddings could be a tad bitter more realistic in content, or Scott Lynch and Joe Abercrombie a tad bit funnier then you will love the way that Marmell has struck a wonderful balance between the two. I haven’t laughed so hard or been so into a book in many a year. Highly recommended." Grasping for the Wind 

"The Goblin Corps possesses the same elements that made The Conqueror’s Shadow so much fun to read. This includes cleverly subverted fantasy tropes—villains who are more likeable than the heroes, a wolf-like troll, a war against the Dark Lord that doesn’t go quite as planned, etc.—comical David Eddings-like humor, and Joe Abercrombie’s kick-ass grittiness.... As good as The Conqueror’s Shadow was, The Goblin Corps is better. Better written, funnier, more fulfilling, and twice as entertaining. Basically, The Goblin Corps is must-read material for anyone who is a fan of Joe Abercrombie and likes seeing fantasy tropes viciously subverted. Don’t let the Abercrombie comparisons fool you either. Ari has his own style which he is perfecting, and if he can continue writing books like The Conqueror’s Shadow and The Goblin Corps, then I wouldn’t be surprised if exciting new fantasy authors were one day compared to Ari Marmell..." Fantasy Book Critic 

"...his is a good story, a very good story. I enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would. The twists and turns in the plot kept me wondering just what would happen next. I enjoyed it so much that I am looking forward to getting a copy of it for my nephew so that he can enjoy it also. This is a fantasy to share with others." Night Owl Reviews


ArtOrder Challenge: Ilustrate a Scene from James Enge's This Crooked Way

This Crooked WayJon Schindehette is the Senior Creative Director at Wizards of the Coast. He also runs the (incredible! amazing!) ArtOrder blog, which regularly dispenses invaluable advice to aspiring and up-and-coming artists. The blog issues "ArtOrder Challenges," always judged by professional illustrators and art directors in the field. For the latest, Jon asked Irene Gallo of Tor and yours truly of (obviously) Pyr to select passages from our respective imprint's publications.

I've selected two passages from James Enge's This Crooked Way. Enge's monsters are always imaginative, and manage that balancing act of being horrifying and humorous in equal measure. Personally I cannot wait to see a host of interpretations of his imagination. See contest details here.

Ian McDonald's The Dervish House wins John W. Campbell Memorial Award

The Dervish HouseIan McDonald's The Dervish Househas won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.
The John W. Campbell Memorial Award for the best science-fiction novel of the year is one of the three major annual awards for science fiction.The Award was created to honor the late editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, now named Analog. Campbell, who edited the magazine from 1937 until his death in 1971, is called by many writers and scholars the father of modern science fiction. Writers and critics Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss established the award in Campbell's name as a way of continuing his efforts to encourage writers to produce their best possible work. Congratulations, Ian!

Meanwhile, The Dervish House also won the BSFA Award, and has been nominated for the Hugo, the Arthur C Clarke, the American Library Association, and Locus awards.


So how about a Goblin Corps excerpt?

If you're still on the fence about The Goblin Corps, or are otherwise curious about whether or not the book's for you, I've decided to make your decision easier. I'm making an excerpt of the novel available as a free download, here.

This excerpt includes the entirety of the prologue and Chapter One. (The Goblin Corps has long chapters.) And I can absolutely guarantee that, once you've read it, you'll assuredly, 100% either buy the book or not.

(Oddly enough, I have a slight preference for the former.)


Keeping it Unreal

(So what is this? Well, Lou's asked me to contribute to the Pyr blog, and since writing and genre are what I most often think about--and since I haven't yet been invited to participate in a round-table :-P--well, that means that blathering about writing and genre is what I'm gonna do, and what you guys get to read about.) ;-)

In one particular episode of Mythbusters, Adam Savage utters the line: "Reality makes a crappy special effects crew."

You know what else reality often makes? Crappy genre fiction.

Obviously, it depends on the story, and it depends on the reader (or viewer, or what have you). But let me give you an example. I will use me as said example, because I've discovered that I tend to be more familiar with my own opinions and preferences than almost anyone else's. Odd how that works out.

Let's take Night of the Living Dead. It's not only the first of the true "zombie movies," but it's still held up today as one of the greatest of the genre. The mood, the story, the effects, the tension, even a societal message... It's, in almost all respects (and allowing for the differences in time period, of course) a phenomenal movie.

I can't watch it.

Not because it's too frightening. Not because I don't like what the movie's doing. But because of Barbra. One character who spends pretty much the entire movie either hysterically freaking out or borderline catatonic. It's partly the way the role is written, and partly the way it was acted, but she annoys. The ever-loving. Crap. Out of me. Enough so that I cannot appreciate the rest of the movie around her.

Thing is, there is no doubt in my mind that her reaction is probably the most realistic one we've ever seen, or ever will see, in a zombie movie. I feel confident in saying that most of you reading this--and indeed, a statistically significant majority of the people writing this--would turn into a big, blubbering ball of whimper (with soiled pants) if we were actually confronted with an uprising of the walking dead.

But the fact that it's realistic doesn't mean it makes for good watching/reading. I watch stories, in part, to see the characters doing things, taking action, overcoming. If I wanted to watch people scream and freak out and not accomplish a damn thing, I'd turn on C-SPAN.

Now, I accept the fact that, as measured against the bulk of the movie's target audience, I'm in the minority with my reaction. I'm not suggesting that Romero should have made the movie differently. I simply bring this up as an example of ways that, for some people in some situations, realism isn't necessarily the right goal for a storyteller to pursue.

Yes, lots of people talk about wanting "realism" in fantasy, sci-fi, or horror. And I believe that they believe that's true. But I also think, for the most part, they're mistaken. They're misinterpreting what they want.

People don't want realism. People want believability. (Or, if you prefer the five-dollar word, "verisimilitude.") It's not about whether something's actually realistic; it's about whether they can believe it.

It's called "suspension of disbelief." I'm sure most of you have heard that phrase. It refers to the audience's ability to lose themselves in the story and believe in what's happening in the story's context, no matter how realistic or unrealistic it might be outside that context.

Every story needs suspension of disbelief, to one extent or another. And every consumer has his or her own line, beyond which something is unacceptable. For some people, that line is really close to "reality" (or what they perceive as reality). But even for these people, I'd argue, the fact that they want their stories realistic is a symptom of the fact that their line for believability is pretty strict, as opposed to itself being the cause.

Some people don't like zombie movies at all, because for them, the idea of reanimated dead is simply too unbelievable. They cannot or will not stretch their suspension of disbelief to that point. So in that regard, they prefer more "realistic" fare than fans of zombie movies.

But how realistic are "realistic" movies? When I was in high school, I went to see Fried Green Tomatoes. (My date at the time wanted to see it. Shut up.) At the beginning of this movie, one of the main characters loses a friend (or relative; I don't remember) because said individual gets his foot stuck in a railroad track and becomes ad-hoc wheel lubricant.

Okay, no problem. But later in the movie (and quite some years later in the story), pretty much the exact same thing happens to a different character. This second character lives, minus a limb, but it's the same situation: Kids playing on the tracks, one happens to get stuck in the exact same way as a train comes by.

And I couldn't accept it. Threw me right out of the movie. It felt like a level of coincidence that was just too much. Is it possible? Sure. Are zombies possible? No (at least not by any laws of science we currently know). And yet, I can accept the latter more than the former, because (at least when they're well done), the portrayal of zombies is believable even if it's not realistic; whereas the sheer improbability of that coincidence in Fried Green Tomatoes might have been technically realistic, but at least to me, it wasn't believable.

Dragons shouldn't be able to fly (wing-to-weight ratio). But even when they're not explained away with magic, we accept them in most fantasy settings because they fit in well enough thematically that we can believe their presence. Most stunts we see in action movies aren't physically possible. (My mention of Mythbusters above? That show has come close to ruining a lot of action movie tropes, because I'm finding them harder and harder to believe. But in a good action movie, where they feel right, I'm far more forgiving.) But sometimes, a writer can just tell a better story by following dramatic necessity rather than "reality." How many times have James Bond or Dean Winchester been knocked out by a blow to the head? You know what happens with a blow to the head that's hard enough to knock someone out in real life? Either they're only out for a few seconds, or they suffer real, lasting damage. There's almost no middle ground. But how much storytelling would you get out of a secret agent or monster hunter who wound up bed-ridden and drooling after the first act of the first episode? (Also, the first reaction most people have to waking up after having been knocked unconscious is to vomit copiously, but most of us don't want to see that happening on screen, either.)

And of course, all of this doesn't even go into the question of "What's real?" That's a philosophical debate I have no intention of getting into, but just as one quick example: In Jurassic Park, Dr. Grant and Screaming Kid #1 avoid the T-Rex by holding perfectly still, because the critter's visual acuity is based on movement. Except that it wasn't, and scientists figured that out well after the movie was made. So does the fact that the science in that scene was wrong ruin it, or does the fact that it was right based on what we knew at the time make it forgivable even in retrospect? (Also, we know now that dinos in the velociraptor family were probably feathered. How's that impacting your view of the movie?)

What's my bottom line here? Well, in part I'm just ruminating about the hazards and pitfalls of genre writing. (Oh, such tribulations! Woe is me!) But in part, I think, it's more a general appeal to writers and the audience both: Don't worry so much about whether something is "realistic." Write it well, write it consistently with the rules you've already established, write it believably, and the audience (or at least the bulk of the audience, which is all you can really hope for anyway) will believe. If it's not believable, it doesn't matter how realistic it may be; and if it is believable, it still doesn't matter how realistic it might be.


Why You Need to Read Sam Sykes

Black Halo (The Aeons' Gate, Book 2)This review at Pornokitsch of Black Halobrilliantly articulates why you need to read Sam Sykes:
"Mr. Sykes' deconstruction of high fantasy is rooted in the character focus. He can afford to keep the plot mysterious and the world vague because, to some degree, we've all read it before. What he brings to the table is those aforementioned beliefs that adventurers aren't heroes, the 'greater good' is subjective and the battle between predestination and free will has civilian casualties. If traditional (Eddings or Sanderson) high fantasy is the thesis and gritty, dirty realism (Martin or Abercrombie) is the antithesis, Mr. Sykes might be the first synthesis. This is a shamelessly high-magic, cinematic adventure with a huge special effects budget. But, the players are imbued with moral uncertainty and all the familiar tropes are investigated in the harsh light of distrusting logic. Mr. Sykes series isn't Watchmen - seeing how comic book superheroes behave in the real world. It is The Ultimates - layering real world logic over the comic book.  As a result, Black Halo represents a raw new maturity in epic fantasy, something that has me bouncing around like a kitten."


The Charnel King wishes you a great Independence Day...

...and hopes you enjoy your freedom while you still have it. >:-]

All due credit to Claudio Pozas for the awesome artwork.


Join the Empire

Empire in Black and Gold (Shadows of the Apt 1)For a limited time, Empire in Black and Gold, the first book in Adrian Tchaikovsky's brilliant fantasy epic, Shadows of the Apt, is available on Kindle at the reduced price of $1.99.
The city states of the Lowlands have lived in peace for decades, bastions of civilization, prosperity and sophistication, protected by treaties, trade and a belief in the reasonable nature of their neighbours.

  But meanwhile, in far-off corners, the Wasp Empire has been devouring city after city with its highly trained armies, its machines, it killing Art . . . And now its hunger for conquest and war has become insatiable.

  Only the ageing Stenwold Maker, spymaster, artificer and statesman, can see that the long days of peace are over.  It falls upon his shoulders to open the eyes of his people, before a black-and-gold tide sweeps down over the Lowlands and burns away everything in its path.  

But first he must stop himself from becoming the Empire's latest victim.

"Tchaikovsky succeeds at creating a compelling, absorbing and unique plot populated with characters worth investing time in. Interestingly, the humans in this series could be considered the monsters in any other series, and the insect/human hybrid characters are believable and fascinating. A promising debut by a verbose and lyrical writer. Four stars: Compelling—Page-turner." —RT Book Reviews

"Tchaikovsky's first novel exhibits a vibrancy and creative spirit that commands attention. Set in a world where human tribes are identified with totem insects—e.g., messenger Fly-kinden, military-minded Ant-kinden—the story moves quickly between intensely personal interactions and scenes of large-scale battle... This original and well-told series opener belongs in most fantasy collections and deserves exposure to a wide audience."
Library Journal